Thursday, August 07, 2014

The power of the かいひステップ

I just woke up this morning to literally see the final score of the Buzz Bullets vs Ironside prequarters game at Worlds.  Buzz shocked everyone (or at least me) by winning 17-16.  Since I wont be able to actually watch the game for a bit I can't really give a good analysis, but while watching the highlight reel I noticed something that Scion Scone wrote about in an ultiworld article not too long ago.  He commented about the way the Buzz generates hucks to odd spaces.  We've known that was the case for a while, but I've never really looked at how or why.  Usually my time watching Buzz is about seeing how well they get short breaks and their strange, no-mark zone.

Then watching the highlight reel from the Worlds game I noticed something.  Prior to throwing those hucks Buzz turns the wrong way.  To further explain, when a player is cutting and catches the disc the direction they turn is typically the shortest path to facing upfield.  On an slanted openside cut that means turning over the openside shoulder, on a breakside cut that means turning over the breakside shoulder.  This has a great natural feel and can make for quick disc movement because the player's momentum expedites the turn rather than hindering it.  I can go on for a while on this, but the important thing is that most cutters turn this way.  On all of the dangerous hucks (the one Scion is referencing) Buzz turned the wrong way.

So why does this matter.  Let's imagine a pass going to the open side and a defender trying to get the block (as many Ironside defenders were trying).  That defender, especially if it is a well versed Ironside defender, is going to start on the open side and try to fight for open side positioning.  That way they are closer to the block without just being flat out faster than their defender.  But there is a disadvantage to that tactic.  If you don't get the block you are out of position to set the mark because you are on the open side.  This is a common problem that happens all the time in the States, and teams try to exploit it.  But the amount that you can exploit it is limited if you are still turning with your momentum

Again, think about this on an openside cut.  If I catch the under and then turn to the open side, my ability to throw a huck to the opposite third is limited.  Let's say it is a backhand force, and I catch the disc on the strong side.  I turn to throw a backhand and realize that my defender has over-commit to that side.  So I've got a wide open flick huck, but my turning momentum (not an actual physical term) is the wrong direction.  In order to get power on that flick huck I will have to pivot over and general new momentum the opposite direction.  That takes time.  While I wont be marked, I will likely feel pressure and my receiver is getting farther away by the minute.

But what if I turned the other way?  Then my momentum is turning the correct way for that huck.  I can drive it farther, and do so faster than if I turned the other way.  The speed on that delivery is really key because it can further exploit someone in the same third running away from their defender.  If the deep target's defender is on the open side (which they would be, right) then they are out of position for this breakside huck.  If I can get the disc out quickly they wont have time to recover.  If I pivot the wrong (or actually the right) way then it takes longer and the defender has time to recover (or get sideline help).  Think of it as a turn that gets away from your defender.

So the かいひステップ (Kaihi-step: Kaihi means Avoidance . . . I think), is turning the wrong way on an under cut to push the active space back in the direction (laterally) from where the disc came.  Should it be used all the time, no!  But using it in a spread scheme when the disc gets near the sideline seems like a potentially good idea.

I'll go through and look at the film soon and try to follow up with some video, but I wanted to get this idea down on "paper" before I forgot it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Practice efficiency: drills vs scrimmaging

I felt bad that Martin was the only one posting here these days, and since I've recently gotten back into coaching I figured I should try to get back to posting some...

While setting up a plan for Southern Revival's 2014 season there were a few restrictions I had to keep in mind. We were incorporating a bunch of new players and we didn't have a ton of practices (3 practices before the series) so the efficiency of practice became really important. Traditionally I tried to break the game down into the simplest level possible then gradually build up complexity. So maybe we'd start with footwork while pivoting and then add in a disc (without throwing), then throwing, throwing with a mark, throwing to a moving cutter and eventually scrimmaging. The idea being you focus on the individual pieces then put them together.

However, I'd read recently that this 'common sense' approach to learning was flawed. Instead of focusing on individual skills, you should work on multiple things at once. That way your overall skill increases more, even if an individual skill may not reach the level it would if you focused solely on it. Also, working on multiple skills together you improve the coordination of the skills together.

So, I ditched drills (almost) completely in favor of scrimmaging. Practice consists of a brief warmup which may include a drill or two, then scrimmaging broken up with throwing drills (no running) and/or whiteboarding time to allow for recovery between games. The games themselves have different rules to try and focus on different skill sets we want to work on. I'll stop the scrimmage occasionally to point out what we should do in particular situations, and frequently pull individual players aside for some one on one coaching. Players also keep track of how many games they win throughout the day and when we run sprints at the end of practice they can subtract their games won from the total sprints.

Here are some of the games I pull from when planning practice:
  • 3 on 3
  • 5 on 5
  • 7 on 7 with shorter stall counts
  • 7 on 8 (man or zone d)
  • 10 (or 5) pull
  • extra points for specific tactics (breaking the mark, dump/swing, etc.)
  • double score
  • redzone scrimmage
  • start with the disc trapped, start from deep in own goal, etc.
It's worked out fairly well so far. My biggest concern was having enough bodies to scrimmage but we've had fair attendance so far so it hasn't really been an issue. Number of touches was also a concern. Some players are naturally going to be less involved in full 7 on 7 games whether because they are less skilled or new to the team, and I was worried that this might slow development for those players. To help combat this, we run a fair amount of 3 on 3, particularly early in practice to get everyone involved. I also keep an eye on involvement as practice goes along. 

I do think drills have a place and we'll occasionally have voluntary skills/drills practices where we typically don't have enough to scrimmage and we focus more on individual skill development. However, I think it's still important to try and make those drills as game-like as possible and try to incorporate multiple skills into each drill.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Three Ways An Ultimate Team Gets Better In The Off-Season

How's that for a click-bait title?  I'll go back and change it, but I think is still pretty fitting for the topic at hand.  This is something that had been mulling in my head since sitting on Chain's meeting about the upcoming season last Winter.  I was listening to a lot of basketball/football podcasts over the summer and I think I may have heard Bill Barnwell mention these three things at one point or another.  Maybe not, though. Fortunately, I got a wall to bounce some ideas off of (thanks Jeremy Goecks) this past weekend at Master's Nationals and I feel a little bit more confident in the ideas.

Basically there are three ways to improve your ultimate team during the off-season.  Those would be drafting, development and free-agency.  To add more detail:

Drafting:  Getting college players previously on a weaker team or not playing in the club series to join your team.  This could also be the case for out of college players, but the idea is that they aren't really part of the elite-club ecosystem yet.

Development: Improving the skills and athleticism of the players currently on your roster.  Anything that improves your existing team during the off-season counts a player development.  While this may seem like the most common way for teams to improve, there is still a pretty wide variance on how well teams develop existing talent.

Free Agency: Bringing in existing elite-club talent from other teams to play for your team.  This could be a result of a job-change/move or just two buddies talking about playing together and then living the dream.

I guess the point of defining these three methods is so teams (particularly emerging or mid-level teams) can think about these methods and approach all of them during the off-season to make the most progress before practice begins.  There is also the side benefit of being able to look at a team's off-season in terms of these three modes of improvement, and really understand how some teams got better.  For example:

The biggest headline for the off-season was Bravo's acquisition of what felt like every free agent in the galaxy.  They got a big free agency signing last year bringing in Eric Johnson and Nick Lance, pouring it on with Kurt, Matzuka, Lokke, Keegan and your Mom just felt unfair.  But here is the thing, it just completed the trifecta of their off-season performance.  Bravo is traditionally a strong development team, getting quality points out of players that started young on that team and grew into star positions.  Then, they get a bomb draft class for national champion UC-Mamabird.

Everyone seemed ready to proclaim Bravo as the frontrunner for a national title and 8th seed in the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs and that kind of made sense.  But wait a minute, Revolver wasn't exactly sitting on its heels either.

The Moon Men are traditionally an insanely strong development team.  After all that was kind of the whole point to the team (Nick Handler, please tell me if I am wrong about this).  And they got good through development.  Sure, they hit a great free-agency class a few years ago as well, and that propelled them to the top, but don't discount how strong their development program has been.  Players like Little Buddy (Tim Gilligan) and Jordan Jeffrey feel like development successes for Revolver's program.  Revolver also had a strong draft class this year, pulling in more former-Polar Bear's players Eli Kerns and Simon Higgins.  I am biased, but both of those players a top notch players.  I guess you would need to include Cahill in the draft class since he wasn't on a team in the division last year.  He's not bad at ultimate and I hear he's a nice guy.

The whole point is that if you were looking at all three of these methods of improvement you would get a better sense of what is really happening during the off-season and not just big reactions to free-agency moves.  Bravo had a great off-season, but it wasn't like Revolver was staring at the stars the whole time.

Back to the first point rationalizing these three methods as pillars for off-season grading.  If you look at your team through the lens of these three modes of improvement you might learn a little about your team and be able to make some improvements you wouldn't have otherwise.  Let's go around the division and see what trends exist:

Ironside: strong free agency, good development and occasionally an excellent draft class

Sockeye: perhaps the best development in the nation(!), decent in terms of free agency and draft class

Doublewide: used to be a development heavy team, is still in the hangover from a previous free agency bomb and gets solid drafting from the giant state of texas

GOAT:  Great international drafting, I can't really speak to much else

Chain: Good free agency, baseline drafting and development (wait, isn't that my job . . . shit)

Ring: Typically strong development, middling drafting and free agency

Machine: good development, leaning on free agency this year

You could keep doing this for a while and if you did it for your team you might learn of a deficiency or strength you didn't already know about.  I don't think there is really anything all that special in coming up with these methods, but it might help start some conversations that end up being worthwhile.  Are you having a down drafting year?  put your chips into development.  Free agency class not looking so hot?  Scour the college to improve your draft class.  Back to watching Kill Bill 2, we're at the coffin scene.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Revisiting Film Technique

Holy crap there is a lot of video of ultimate available now!  It is like the first time I walked into a Toys 'R Us and I realized that a whole store could just have toys.  I didn't know where to look because everything was awesome.

With all of the video out there it now become so much easier to get content to support whatever it is you want to do.  Team scouting, instructional videos, highlight reels, etc.  But the technique of how to breakdown your film from a technical standpoint is still a barrier.  Outside of the coaching skill (and it is a skill that you can get better at) required to see what you need to see in the film, the process of clipping, telestrating and reforming film is tough.  I wrote about this for Worlds last year and it garnered a whole 2 comments!  So either no one reads this blog anymore (which is likely) or there aren't a lot of people really spending time on film study techniques.  I know that with the vast amounts of film out there most if not all elite teams are using film to scout and probably to improve their own game.  But the extent of that use might be pretty basic (throw the tape in the VCR and press play).

But since I have been doing a lot of work editing film I've learned a few more things and I thought I would post them here so future film-breakdown-wannabes will be able to stand on my shoulders and still not break 5'.


  • MPEG Streamclip has become my favorite editing tool again.  Mostly because of its superfast clipping mechanism.  Basically you watch film, press "I" and "O" to place clipping markers.  Then CMD+T (on a mac) trims the clip for you.  Save it in any format you want then the special thing is CMD+Z undoes the trimming and you have the full movie back.  This basically allows you to live-clip video the first time watching it, especially given MPEG's solid scrubbing tools.  There are some glitches, but it sure does beat my original technique (writing down time markers while I watched).
  • AVCHD is an awesome format for image quality, but it sucks for editing.  I've struggled with different AVCHD converters for the MAC.  They all feel like 1990s shareware and don't reliably get me the quality I want.  But it turns out that iMovie '11 can read AVCHD as a Camera Archive.  Then when you import the movie to iMovie it converts all of the clips in the AVCHD file to separate .MOV files.  The .MOV files get saved under your Movie Events folder so you don't have to actually "make" a movie in iMovie to get those files out.  Once you have the .MOV files you can go to town in whatever fancy editor you like
  • Explain Everything is an educational iPad app that has a really good recording feature.  I'm still green with getting it to work well, and its drawing tools aren't as great as other programs, but the ability to draw directly on the picture might push it into the front sport as the telestrator of choice.

There is plenty of space for growth in this field.  Ultimate is growing in so many other ways (membership, exposure, coaching), this is one way that isn't going to get attention for a while.  But eventually how well and quickly you can breakdown film might actually be a thing that kind of matters.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Mike Caldwell's Cutting Tree and "Cutting" as a skill

Recently Mike Caldwell wrote a response in Skyd about his cutting tree  Having recently been thinking about how to get our boys to be better technical cutters I was super excited.  Mike has been a premier cutter for a long time and if he was going to break down something like the route tree, that was going to be huge.  Often cutting technique in ultimate gets described as running harder for longer, and that isn't going to work against better athletes (of which there are plenty as you get older, trust me).  Mike is a great athlete, but he has also been a premier cutter for a long time and is a tireless workhorse.  Surely he has some insight on different ways to get open.

Unfortunately his piece, while having many excellent points (including one on sente which does a good job of explaining who should cut when), doesn't really describe how to cut better in general but rather how to run a certain pattern well.  The pattern to run is along the diagonals and sides of a trapezoid.  If you go back and watch Sockeye in the mid-2000s it is no surprise that this is the pattern Mike gives you.  Their use of isolated thermals as a cutting style to make an aggressively under-cutting alternative to Furious' H-stack was revolutionary and created a pattern that many college teams hope (and fail) to emulate with their offenses.  Mike's coaching points of what to think about, how to get better at the pattern are good insight and practice for young cutters.

I think the place that I take issue, or was disappointed by the piece was in the use of the term "tree."  The route tree in football is a description of the different paths that a receiver can take within a football offense.  The premise is that it contains all of the options for the receiver and that since both the quarterback and the receiver know the same tree they can be on the same page more easily.  With that in mind Mike's "tree" kind of holds all of the cuts that Sockeye ran (at least from their cutters) in the early-mid 2000s.  But it is more of a flow pattern and less a "tree."  In part that is a dilemma of continuous sports like ultimate being put in contrast to segmented sports like football.  There isn't a clearing pattern in football, there is a stoppage of play.  Maybe flow patterns are ultimate's equivalent to cutting trees, describing broad paths for players to take?  In that case, Mike's piece is a description of the old Sockeye flow pattern and is invaluable to players trying to be excellent cutters in that system.

However I think that cutting and flow patterns are different things.  Flow patterns tell you where the next cut should be and where you should go when you are done cutting (or aren't cutting at all).  Sockeye's H stack called for hard under cuts through the middle (often at an angle) and clears down the sideline (that could easily be deep cuts).  Cutting feels different.  Cutting is a move that is designed to create separation between you and your defender and is somewhat independent of the placement of the disc and more about the placement of the space you are trying to access.  I digress lest I spend the next 2000 words talking about space.


One of the big advantages of the football route tree is it tells you how to get where you are going.  It involves a discrete cut/movement to get open.  Five yards hard out then a 120 degree turn towards the quarter back (hitch).  Ten yards you then a 90 degree turn across the middle of the field (dig).  That is the element that I (perhaps naively) was looking for in Mike's piece and found missing.  I think I was hoping for a description of methods that Mike used to get open in different situations (with a defender fronting him, with a defender playing even, from a lateral reset, etc.).  What Mike provided really has only one (maybe two) cutting movements: a sharp change in direction at the top and another at the bottom of the trapezoid.  But that leaves a lot of different ways to get from A to B unexplained.

That is one of the other values of the football route tree.  Even if a particular offense doesn't use all of the tree (the Packers love their slants but don't throw too many flats), the branches are there for everyone to learn and understand.  It establishes the language of cutting in football.  Every community has a vernacular for their cuts, but the football route tree is almost universally consistent (sure there are subtle changes between things like a go route and a fade, but there is broad agreement on post, hitch, dig, out, slant, etc.).  We currently lack a common language for how to talk about these cuts.  What is a scoo or a whoop cut?  Is it a double cut or a triple cut?

So I think what I am going to spend some time on is developing a cutting tree that is about creating separation between you and your defender.  I'll talk to various coaches about different ways that they cut in hopes of generating the fundamental movement patterns/breaks that make up all of the cuts.  While many offenses don't use most of those cuts, coming up with a common vernacular and skill set to teach young players will hopefully help coaches develop talent faster and help players figure out multiple ways to get open to the same space.  This will be quite a little project, but I think there is some really work to be done there.  With that being said, what is your favorite cut?

Extra Note:  I've spoken with Kyle about this and I think he and I are going to work to make sure we are using the same names for cutting to start the ball rolling towards a common vernacular.  


Monday, March 03, 2014

TUFF vs UCF Coin Toss: What To Do With The Wind

I was reading an article by Jimmy Leppert on Skyd a second ago and was struck by some of the responses in the comments about a decision Texas had to make after the toss.  Apparently, and I hope I am getting this correct since it is all second hand, UCF won the coin toss and decided to take the up-wind side on a very windy day.  I guess kudos to Andrew Roca for choosing the correct side, but that was an easy choice.  Then Texas, coached by Calvin Lin who has been through his share of games, decides to start on offense.  Jimmy, the post's author, states that he was surprised by this decision and then people in the comments state that they would do the same thing.

So let's go over the rationale for receiving the pull going upwind to start the game:
-You can put your best players on the field going upwind with fresh legs
-You have to score upwind at some point anyway
-You hope that their defense isn't playing well early in the game
-You have the most amount of time to recover from the break that you give up by not scoring

I think most, if not all, of those fail to hold up to much scrutiny.  Let's just give up on the last two, because I think those are the easiest to dismiss (although if I need to in more detail I'll be happy to do so in the comments).

Let's focus on the 2nd on because that is the one that was being supported in the comments.  It is the one that seems to have the best chance of winning against scrutiny.  Texas DOES have to score an upwind point to win the game since the lost the coin toss, but not all upwind points are the same.  By receiving the pull Texas is likely to start at the brick (as the best scenario) or in the back of the endzone on the sideline (as the worst scenario).  Somewhere in the endzone is most likely.  Now Texas has to work upwind a full 70+ yards to score against a defense that is set and focusing on D.  That is a tall order even though you might have the best pieces in place (point 1) to accomplish that task.  UCF gets to set whatever defense they want and knows their assignments prior to the pull.

If that is how you are going to score your upwind point, the odds are pretty low.  Instead lets looks at an alternative: you start on defense.  This is the choice that Texas had and didn't take.  Here are some of disadvantages:
-"Weaker" defensive players on the field
-You have to get a break from the opponent
-They can always punt to force you to go 70 yards
-Pulling upwind you are likely giving the offense a shorter field to score

These seem like good reasons to go with the offense, but are they really?  The advantages of pulling are pretty decent too.  You get to control the tone of the point by setting the defense and as a result you can hope for an unforced error or block such that you get a short field.  That seems like the most compelling argument for pulling first.

If you pull you can try to get them stuck on a sideline and force either lateral throws to get off of the sideline or a straight punt.  At worst, if they punt, you have to work no more than 70 yards against a transition defense that may not have their assignments figured out yet (or might have a particular match up you can exploit).  At best you can block the punt or force backward passes to reduce your field even more.

So if you start with the pull you can at worst be in a situation better than if you started on offense, and at best have a situation that is better than all likely ones when you start on offense (I suppose there is a chance that your opponent will shank the pull and give you a short field, but those are super low odds).

If we go back through the list of advantages of receiving and think about them again I think the decision becomes clear:
-You can put your best players on the field with fresh legs: You can do that while starting on defense, and you can find a way to manufacture that later in the game if need be.
-You have to score upwind anyway: True, but not all upwind scoring opportunities are the same and the possible outcomes for an upwind score are better when you are starting on defense.
-You hope that their defense isn't playing well early in the game:  O.k. but if that isn't the case then their transition defense isn't likely to be playing well either.  Giving a slow starting defensive line the chance to play the defense of their choice with the opponent going upwind is a pretty friendly start to a game.
-You have the most amount of time to recover from the break that you give up by not scoring: True, but it would also be nice to not need that time.

I have ignored the mental aspects of starting down a break (likely 0-2 by the time the game gets back on track) mostly because those are so specific to a team's make up.  In general it would seem like you would never want your team to be in a position of weakness, but I have played against plenty of teams that seem to find strength in those positions.  The subject gets murky very quickly, so best to just leave that alone.

I guess my outcome is that it is almost always better to start on defense if you are forced to choose going upwind.  Maybe I should ask Kyle, I'm sure he's solved this already.


Saturday, March 01, 2014

Young Players and Stats

This post is kind of a train wreck, stream of consciousness, piece of nonsense.  I'll try to make more sense of it after another tournament.

Last weekend Paideia finished 4-2 at Deep Freeze, losing in the semis to Carolina Friends School.  The two losses were both to the finalists (Holy Family Catholic was the other one) and to teams that will be attending Paideia cup.  Probably the biggest struggle for us was how much we had to play young players.  They were mostly sophomores (we have 9 on the team) and they had to take tough assignments and handle most of the weekend.  They all rose to the challenge, but it was difficult for them.  In particular having to at times get upperclassmen to do the "right" thing was hard.  How do you tell a senior that they need to get you the disc on the swing when you can't drive yet?  I think Tiina would solve this through clearly laying out player expectations, but I don't think Paideia is there yet.

One thing that I focused on this past weekend was figuring out what stats I wanted to track.  I broke my stats down into two different categories: in-game and post-game.  The thought was that some stats I needed to be aware of in the middle of a game in order to manage it properly while some stats I didn't really need until the end of a game for trends.  The rest of this post is going to be about stats, so I don't want to get too far into the weeds here where there are more enticing weeds up ahead.

The statistic that I found had the most post-game utility was Unforced Errors.  I decided to ditch turnovers this season for UE since those are the easiest for us to control.  An Unforced Error was counted every time we had a drop or threw the disc away.  Basically a turn over without the defense touching the disc.  Tracking raw UE was pretty interesting and showed a team that uses all of its players and hasn't had much on-field practice time.

But what I am more interested in is thinking about how to track UE in a useful fashion and how to use it as a metric for the over all "quality" of our team.  Presumably lowering UE would be good for a team, but it doesn't even necessarily mean that the total number of turnovers went down.  One could lower their UE score while still  having the same turnovers by simply having the defense get more Ds.  That would feel doubly inaccurate because not only would we not be "playing better" as the metric might suggest, but we are actually playing worse because we are throwing more contested throws.  So a teams decision making ability affects UE, but I don't know how much that really matters.

What I really wanted to do is find a way to get meaning out of UE across disparate games.  This past weekend we beat Birmingham Forge 11-9 and Catholic High School B 13-0.  How do we compare numbers against such a range of opponents?  Perhaps the easiest way is to track UE per point, so the fact that there were 19 points in the Forge game and 13 points against CHS-B will be divided out.  But that doesn't account for the gap in opponent skill.  Without useful rankings in youth ultimate we can't use "strength" as a balancer because we don't know an opponent's strength.

So I started thinking of different ways to approach getting more meaning out of UE.  I came up with some things that I'm confident Sean Childers will be appalled with.  But I'm not a statistician, I'm a coach, and I would like to think that Bill Barnwell would at least be happy that a coach is trying to find more meaning in a number.

I'm stuck between two things to do to UE to give it more meaning.  They both related to score, as the best proxy for "strength" I can find in youth ultimate.  The first would be to take the delta of the score by the end of the game and use that to modify the number of unforced errors.  I think this would take the form of a divisor so that if you are winning by a large margin the value of an unforced error goes down.  But what about when you are losing?

Which brought me to my next idea.  The value of an unforced error (or a D?) is at least dependent on the current ratio of scores (with opposing score in the numerator).  As an example, if we dropped the disc when the score is tied at 6s that UE would have a value of 1.  If the score was 6-3 (so we are winning) it would have a value of 1/2.  If the score was 3-6 then it would have a value of 2.  I'm not convinced that this number is going to more accurately reflect the value of a turnover, and I know that there are some situations that would break this metric (a punt, for example).  But I'm thinking it might do a better job than just raw unforced errors, and there might be a number that we can use from year to year as a metric of "quality."

NOTE: as a side, this metric would highly value unforced errors when you are losing, which might feel counter to common sense.  It also would skew the data early in the game when the ratios could be further away from 1 with similar point differentials.  I guess the big questions (that we all think we know the answer to) is whether or not an unforced error is more devastating when down 3-2 or when down 13-12.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Prelude to a Turbulent Season

Paideia Gruel 2014, and also the entire Paideia Ultimate program is going to have quite a season of Change.  First, and least important for this post, our women's team finally has a permanent coach (Miranda Knowles), just in time for their youngest team on record.  There is likely to be a dip in their performance this year, but Miranda will be able to grow a program and is in a good position to get the women's program to JV-worthy numbers in the next year or so.  Meanwhile our JV numbers have blown up so that JV is wondering if they need to have 2 JV teams (which would still put us 3 or 4 behind Amherst).  Growth is clearly in the air for the players.

While Miranda adds some stability to the coaching situation, the growth presents new problems.  Miranda is clearly going to need an assistant, but until that is solved I will still be helping out with that ladies from time to time.  The men's varsity team is about to go through a totally different upheaval with the arrival of Michael's first child.  That should be happening any day now, which will put the "interim head coach" hat on my head for a little while.  I'll write more about that in a second, but then later on in the season I will have to bow out for a bit as our second child is born.  So during the season Gruel will have two different head coaches, and perhaps most importantly both of them will be learning how to be a head coach with a child for the first time.  Life is going to be different.

One of the changes I am hoping to implement is to continue to work on producing useful film for our Varsity program.  Hopefully I am going to get a "team manager" to film our practice scrimmages and if that is the case I am going to end up with a wealth of film.  Games would be awesome, but I don't know if that is as realistic.  What I hope to do with the film is the following:
 
-Take the film from a practice and watch it over the weekend, breaking each one down into 4-8 clips no longer than 20 seconds each.  Take each of the clips and write my own notes on them.

-During rain days have the players watch the film and tell me what they see.  They will most likely be hyper critical (sensing that it was I will try to be) and have them go through the process of recognizing what is a reasonable level of criticism for players on the field.  Have them come up with a prompt for the clip.  Some thing along the lines of "I would show a person this clip if I wanted to show them . . . "

-Share my notes with the players and have them see if my notes change how they think about the film.

-Finally, get them to reflect on how they can recognize that situation on the field themselves, rather than having to see it from a bird's eye.

-Towards the end of the season, use their categorization to group the film into sections (I imagine it is going to be something like, "good swing passes," "good defensive positioning," etc.)

This exercise with the players shouldn't take more than 5 minutes per clip (2-3 times watching it at 4 minutes for discussion).  The end goal would be to have a grouping of film to remind them of certain things that we had seen and to be able to use that in the future to both remind current players of what we already know and to help teach new players as they come into the program.

At this level what we are doing is teaching players.  The film is directed more towards improving the play of the players out there (and the team) and less about learning opposing team tendencies.  With that in mind (although I guess it would work in both settings) teaching the players how to recognize a situation they saw in the film room when they are on the field is incredibly important.

There are other big changes for Paideia Ultimate in the works.  I'll write about those later as they come up.  This year's film project might be a complete bust.  But either way we will work towards finding a better method for improving our players and playing better as a team.





Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Producing Instructional Film

This is the second part of my reflection on film from this summer's adventures.  The last piece was about using film on the same day to help the U-23 Mixed team this summer.  This post will be about some of the film work that I did helping Chain during the fall.  They are distinctly different types of film, and there is still a third type (watching the film) that I would love to do a piece on with Lou, Kyle, Matty, Bob or Whit.  That is a long list of people, and an open invitation if anyone is interested.

This summer Chain Lightning asked me to help them out a little.  The scope of the help was left somewhat vague (intentionally on my part) because I didn't think that stepping in as a full Coach was the right thing to do.  My job involved being at team meetings, planning some practices, and being a bird in the ears of the captains as they steered the ship.  One thing that I wanted to do was to film practices/games and use that to improve individual players and team mistakes.  It is a practice used in all sports, so why not use it in ultimate.  I had experience doing similar work with Olympic Athletes earlier in life, so I knew a little bit about what I wanted to be able to convey to the players with this video.

Chain has a certain reputation and so my first task was to use film to either reinforce or refute that reputation.  The team also had certain strategic goals they were trying to achieve, and the film was a good way to determine if they had achieved those goals.  Then there were specific player goals that could be checked with film.  All of these things required me to get film, go through it, edit it and then add commentary as needed.

Acquiring film was pretty easy.  I didn't have time to sit and film all of the practices, but Chain set up cameras for me so I got some film from practice.  In the future having a "camera man" feels pretty key. That can be a tough thing to find since most people who want to be involved with ultimate want to play, and unless you are paying them (or they are related to someone) people aren't likely to give up their weekends to stand behind a camera.  Ultiworld made getting prior game film easy since they were filming at tournaments and for a cost you could get the raw files.  The film on NexGen and ESPN was perhaps of better "quality" but was often shot a little too close for my taste, and was streamed so you couldn't edit a file directly.  More on that later.

With film in hand it just took time for me to go through it, and finding an editor that I could use.  MPEG-Streamclip is a quick and dirty editor for mp4 files and became the editor de jour since I could trim quickly and convert between file formats with little problem.

Finding the right pieces of film to cut was difficult at times and easy at other.  If I went in with a narrative in mind it became easy to find the film that supported what I was thinking about.  When I was approaching film with a broad mentality (not knowing what I was looking for) it took significantly longer.  Out of the average game I was pulling somewhere between 20-30 clips dealing with a range of topics (defensive positioning, offensive structure, red zone, choices, etc.).  Breaking down all of those clips into a meaningful message was difficult at times, but felt like the important part of the film.  It became an issue of seeing what clips fit with a theme and then pulling them together.  Usually I would be able to break the film down into 2 or 3 themes.

With themes determines I would then combine all of the video (again in Streamclip) and start the annotation process.  If I were using iMovie I could have added captions to the video, but that felt like it was going to take too long.  So instead I used a Wacom tablet, Quicktime for a screen recorder and a piece of software from my job (teacher) called ActivInspire to allow me to draw over the screen using the tablet.  I would then go through the video, pause at certain points, telestrate the image then continue, all while providing audio commentary.  It was very easy for these videos to be long, but I tried to keep them under 15 minutes.  We as coaches have the ability to drone on about tactics and strategy for hours if we are allowed to, so I needed to prevent that tendency.  From that I would upload the film to a site and let the captains know about it.

At times the film was used to inform the next practice.  Other times it was forwarded to the team for everyone to watch.  Now that I have a mechanism for producing these videos the challenge from a coach perspective feels like learning how to integrate this as part of the overall process.  The questions that I left this summer with were: How do I improve the quality of information I get from watching film?  How to I speed up the process of editing and annotating the film?  How to I best deliver the messages I am trying to deliver? And finally, how do I establish that using film is helping the team rather than hurting the team?

I will have a chance to work on those questions during the upcoming high school season.  Instructional tape will be important for those players since they are so you and haven't played/watched as much ultimate as the rest of us.  Also with scouting being less important it is something that I can work on during the year.  My plan is to record practices, break down some of the film and watch it on rainy day (of which there always seem to be plenty).  Then I can have the players decide which sections of film should be put into a legacy bin that we use for years to come as an example of our our style of play.  I want to get away from highlights, of which there will be plenty and players understand what they look like.  What I am hoping to find is film of things like Baccarini's history 100+ pass zone point, so that players understand how our team operates and see things on the field they don't normally see.  I'll check back in on occasion to see how that is going.



Friday, November 22, 2013

Day-of Filming for Worlds

This post was prompted by an article that Lou wrote for Skyd regarding a conversation that he and Bob Krier had.  The gist of the conversation was Bob asking Lou what his setup was, Lou explaining that he didn't really have a great solution yet, but was interested in Hudl and thought it might work if you could get multiple teams to pay for it.  Bob said thanks and that was that.  Aside from being a little hurt that Bob wouldn't email such a question to me (after all he did see me tirelessly work through film this whole summer) I realized that I have a lot to say about the topic.  Not everything I have is best practice by any means, but it is something that I have spent a lot of time with.  So I figured I would put some of those thoughts down here.  It will be long-form, and probably in multiple parts, but since the words/minute rating on this blog is more like words/month I don't think that is a problem.

As you may have guessed from previous posts, I have put some time into film work during my coaching career.  It was something that I picked up in 2003 when I was working at the USOC Training Center in Colorado Springs.  Most of our job back then was about finding ways to quickly get coaches quantitative feedback for their athletes during training and competition.  We were figuring things out as we went along, and were having to mesh data collection with video to meet demanding coaches' desires.  It was stressful, but I learned a little about video production and a lot about the value of live feedback and film for athletes.  On the pre-Olympic level (many of the athletes involved were right on the cusp of making the trip to Athens) the margin for error was slim and any advantage a coach could find was worth it.

Dealing with film was difficult back then, so when I left the USOC I stopped for a while.  Eventually I picked it back up in 2007 during Emory's first and only Regional Championship.  The finals were against FUEL (University of Florida) and because I had two other head coaches for our Semis I was able to leave early and film FUEL's semifinal game.  This was basically me with a tripod, a slight elevation and a camera that shot in 480 and output MPEG-2.  That night I was able to hook it up to the hotel TV through component cables and watch.  Watching that film I realized that FUEL's defense was checking in with the thrower too much and losing sight of the offender.  But our straight stack cutting system typically left those cutters stationary as they waited for things to clear out.  So we knew we could exploit FUEL's defensive strategy with breakmark cutting when the defender wasn't looking.  While that wasn't the only thing that allowed us to win that game, it was the first time that I really felt like the film played a direct impact in a result (there were 2 other adjustments on defense that led to two breaks).  From then on I have tried to figure out how to best do game tape.

When I applied for the U23 coaching position last fall I started thinking about film again, and explained in the interview that film was going to be a large part of what I wanted to do.  Once I got the position it became increasingly more important that I figure out a way to deliver on that promise.  I dug out my old camera from 2007 and found it useless.  The resolution was too low and the format was terrible.  I decided to get a better camera (Panasonic V-201) a few months in advance to see what I could accomplish.  This camera isn't really the solution to my long term problems, but it worked in a pinch.  I knew that I wanted 1080p so that I could actually distinguish players from far away.  I also wanted a decent frame rate and aperture speed.  After talking to a film producing friend of mine I was pointed towards this Panasonic and a few other options.  The V-201 won because it was cheapest while still having decent features.

Getting the V-201 up an running was difficult at first.  There were two main formats for video recording: .mp4 and AVCHD. I had good experience with .mp4 from work in the classroom and knew how to do decent editing with MPEG-Streamclip.  The downside with .mp4 work in the past was that a camera designed to be plugged into a TV has a different interlacing order than a computer focused camera.  This meant that when tracking moving objects there was a strange line-splitting effect that occurred.  In order to get around this the film had to be processed/deinterlaced, which could take a while in streamclip.   I knew that at Training Camp I wanted to be able to view film with a turn around of less than 1 hour, so this type of codec wasn't going to work.

In came AVCHD, as a new format it promised good resolution and the capability to go directly to a computer.  Unfortunately it came with its own headaches.  The biggest one was that the files were large.  I could easily get into the GB range while filming 45 minutes.  But I guess that is what you get for a higher resolution. That would have been a real bummer if I had to do any processing.  Fortunately this format could be read directly by a computer, so I wouldn't need to do any processing to view it.  Unfortunately it wasn't readable by the basic version of quicktime.  So I had to upgrade to the pro version for $30.  It wasn't that big a deal and it allowed me to plug the camera directly into the computer and open the files straight in quicktime.  That part was a success.

Having successfully figure that out we went to Buffalo and filmed a practice.  I had Jason Simpson stand atop a 20 foot ladder leaning against a goalpost so that we got a good angle and decent amount of field without panning too much.  We were able to directly view all of the film on a large flatscreen in a common area, and used it that night in front of the whole team.  It worked as well as we had hoped.  While I don't think we did anything that amazing, it served the purpose of helping get people on the same page quickly.  It reminded me of working at the USOC where we would literally have a weightlifter finish a C&J then walk 2 steps and watch it again from two camera angles, in slo-mo and with force plate and bar velocity data coupled.  It seemed like overkill at the time, but in reality it allowed a coach to point out that the athlete was generating force unevenly (between their feet) and also a bit late compared to the bar velocity.

In Buffalo the advantage was clear because I was able to show these 26 players from all across the country what I was seeing on the field and how that shaped what I wanted to do offensively.  It made it easy for me to display the idea of functional space to players in terms of disc movement, and allowed Eli Kerns and I to go back and forth on the cost/benefit of a throw-and-go driven offense.  **I would like to point out that neither of us "won" that conversation, but the film allowed me to see what he was talking about and him to see what I was talking about in such a way that we both moved towards the middle**  From that point on we filmed every practice, and while the players were getting dinner the coaches would often be watching the film in order to figure out what to talk about that night or what to do with the next practice.  At times we would use the film to show players tendencies that we wanted to stress/diminish, but mostly it became a diagnostic tool for the coaches.

There was one hitch with the process, and it was quicktime.  An annoying feature of quicktime's AVCHD compatibility is that it opens a preview window from which you can select any of the video clips that are in the AVCHD file.  But once you select a video and watch it quicktime will kick you out so you have to do the whole thing over again.  It made hunting and pecking for specific video very slow and a momentum-kill in a film session.  If we had even a night to prepare we could have clipped all of the sections and made a unique video, but as it was we were trying to find specific plays in 1-4 minute long clips.

That hitch could have really been a damper for the process if it wasn't for one of the players (I think it was Justin Norden) that pointed out we could use VLC.  While VLC doesn't have some of the scrubbing features that QuickTime does (in quicktime the arrow keys will let you go frame by frame in either direction, in VLC you can only easily go forward) it will queue all of the individual videos in an AVCHD file so you can jump around with ease.

The use of day-of film became more evident in Toronto.  We had no prior knowledge of opposing teams going into the tournament (which is not that uncommon in mixed), so being able to scout opposing teams was vital.  We apparently got a reputation for being the CIA because we would bring a camera to other fields and film opponents, but it was worth it.  We also filmed most of our games so that we could watch the film that night and see if we were falling into bad habits.  All teams fall into bad habits, and having the ability to recognize that is important.  Having film showing a person displaying those bad habits goes a lot farther than just telling them after a point.  We used film often to show that we weren't running the team's end zone offense but rather each person's end zone offense, which explained why scoring from the red zone was taking so long.  Or to show how well we cleared out space in front of the disc as it swung to a sideline.

By the time we made it to power pools to play Canada we had film on all of our opponents, had broken down all of their offenses and all of their defenses.  But here we fell into a trap. Being all club players, the coaching staff felt that we needed to tell our team as much about our opponents as possible to be ready.  If we could use that to produce even one break that could be the difference between a win and a loss.  So the night before the game we spent a lot of time explaining everything that Team Canada was likely to do and how we were going to stop it.

The trap was that we unloaded too much information on our players.  I believe the captains accurately described it as "making the game more about Canada and less about US."  That was a problem that came from having access to so much film.  The well was so deep it was easy to drown in.  In the past, my page of scouting notes could have been finished quickly, but since we had film of everything we could go over too much.

The lesson we learned was that controlling the amount of film was important.  That is easy to see when making instructional film, but we lost sight of it in the day-of film process.  We continued to film everything, and use it for the coaches in bulk, but for the players sparingly.  By the time we played Canada in the finals we were able to refine the message to just a few clips of specific things we wanted to do.

So where does this leave me with day-of film going forward?  With the high school season ahead of me, we don't really scout as much as we do in club/national competition.  So I imagine the film will turn introspective and we will film our own games.  Then that night I'll go through stuff, pull some clips for the nightly team meeting and try to improve our game for the next day.  This film will most likely get kept for later use during rainy days, but at that point it will turn into "stale" film and I should be able to edit and telestrate it for particular messaging/instruction.  That feels like it should be another post.

I think the benefits the coaching staff and players got from day-of film was worth the headache, but it was easy to go overboard.  Players are tired after a day of ultimate, so forcing them to sit through film sessions may not be the right idea.  But that answer might change from team to team.  Getting a system up and running isn't terrible from a technical side.  You should be able to purchase a decent camera and software for under $350.  If done correctly you can then just plug it right into a computer (coupled with an HDMI out or AirPlay you can go to a TV easily).  From that point on you actual get to focus on coaching and can figure out how you want to use that video to convey a message to your team.

I'm sorry if this has been a rambling mess.  I have had so many thoughts about this topic they kept getting stuck together.  One thing that I would like to end with is a huge thanks to Kyle Krumwiede from Orlando.  He helped us with tryouts and traveled to Toronto in order to help the team.  He was my camera man for the entire week and without him we wouldn't have been able to get as much film as we had or been as prepared as we were.  He wasn't formally affiliated with the delegation, but he made a big impact and deserves credit.  USX.